With a few weeks remaining in the 2023-24 NBA regular season, now seems like a good time for a quick 76ers notebook looking at a few recent trends with the team, starting with the lack of minutes for a young, budding fan favorite.

Where have the Ricky Council IV minutes gone?

For a while there, it looked like Ricky Council IV was poised to receive some regular and consistent playing time in Philadelphia’s rotation. Council played over 20 minutes in three straight games in the middle of February, and he flashed plenty of potential during his on-court opportunities.

With the Sixers dealing with a myriad of injury issues to perimeter players, it seemed like Council was going to continue to get some added opportunity. That hasn’t happened though.

Since that stretch of 20-plus minute performances, Council hasn’t played over 20 minutes in a single game for the Sixers. In fact, he has only received double-digit minutes in a game once since then, as he appears to have slipped back to the end of the bench.

It’s difficult for an unproven player to crack the rotation for a team with championship aspirations, but considering all of the injuries that the Sixers have been dealing with coupled with Council’s promising play when given the opportunity, it’s somewhat surprising to see his lack of action.

Things could change, but Council doesn’t appear to be part of Philadelphia’s playoff plan. He’s currently on a two-way deal, and if that contracted isn’t converted, he’ll be ineligible to play for the team in the postseason. Perhaps Nick Nurse is just preparing for that eventuality.

Council would obviously like to be available for the team come playoff time, but he’s maintaining a positive outlook regardless.

“I feel like I put my hard work in and whatever the team needs — like I said a long time ago, whatever the team needs from me, that's cool,” Council said of the situation, via ClutchPoints “If they feel like they don't need me for the playoffs and they're not gonna convert it, then that's their decision. I obviously would love to play in the playoffs but if I'm not playing then I'll sure be on the bench cheering.”

Hield’s scoring down after strong start in Philly

Buddy Hield scored over 20 points in each of his first four games in a 76ers uniform. It was a strong start for a player who felt like a natural fit in Philadelphia. However, his scoring has slipped since.

Hield has scored under 20 points in every game since those first four, and he’s shooting just 43 percent from the floor with the Sixers. The saving grace for Hield has been the fact he’s still been extremely effective from long range.

He’s attempting over eight triples per game for the Sixers and making 42 percent of them, so he clearly hasn’t forgotten how to space the floor.

Hield was added to be an ideal perimeter counterpart to Joel Embiid, and he has yet to play in a single game with the big fella, so it’s tough to fully judge his brief tenure with the Sixers so far. When, and if, Embiid is ultimately able to return this season, his sheer gravity on the offensive end should work to open things up even more for Hield, and at that point his full value to the team could be gauged.

The Sixers have to hope that Hield will get an opportunity to play in some games with Embiid this season, as they'll ultimately have to decide if they want to bring him back in free agency over the offseason.

Trade deadline miss coming back to haunt Sixers

Heading up to the trade deadline last month, it was painfully obvious that the Sixers needed to add another big man in order to help the team stay afloat during Embiid’s seemingly inevitable long stretch on the sideline.

They reportedly had a deal in place for Chicago Bulls center Andre Drummond that never materialized, and there was apparently no real backup plan after that. Now, the Sixers are paying the price as they don’t have a reliable rim protector, and they’re consistently getting out-rebounded.

It’s pretty clear that Nick Nurse doesn’t fully trust either Paul Reed or Mo Bemba, and understandably so, as neither guy has been consistently great. As a result, Nurse has recently experimented with more small-ball lineups. In both of Philadelphia’s recent losses to Brooklyn and Memphis, a small-ball lineup was used in the fourth quarter to little success. Reed wasn't a fan of this decision.

“I’m not the biggest fan of going with the small lineup," Reed said, via Sixers Wire. "I feel like we give up rim protection. We give up rebounding. I feel like the defense is more important than the offense.”

“From what I can see, from my perspective, when the two rim protectors are out the game, that’s when teams go on their runs,” Reed added. “I feel like we need that rim protection and we need that extra length that helps rebounding. That’s essential, you know?"

It's usually not a good sign when a player is publicly questioning a coach's decision making.

 Most Improved Maxey

Tyrese Maxey is the favorite to win the NBA's Most Improved Player of the Year award this season, and for good reason. Out from the shadow of Ben Simmons and then James Harden, Maxey has taken his game to another level this season as the primary ballhandler and offensive initiator for Philadelphia.

Maxey was named to his first All-Star team this season, and he could also be in line for an All-NBA selection. His counting stats are up across the board, but perhaps his most impressive area of improvement has been on the defensive side of the ball, where he has gone from a liability to a legitimately solid defender for his size and position. He's quick enough to stay in front of his man on the perimeter, and some added bulk has made it more difficult for bigger guards to bulldoze him.

He probably won't ever make an All-Defensive team, but his commitment to that end of the floor and the resulting improvement has been impressive.

It's too bad that Embiid is ineligible for the MVP Award, because if he were healthy, the Sixers would very likely have the Most Valuable Player and the Most Improved Player in the same season.

Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on X @therealmikekb.

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